Update: Foreman faces trial over logging death

By Katie Holland -
Forestry worker Robert Epapara was killed on the job.
Forestry worker Robert Epapara was killed on the job.

A logging crew foreman will stand trial for actions that led to the death of a Rotorua forestry worker.

Major Nelson appeared in the Rotorua District Court today where he maintained a not guilty plea to a Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment charge of failing to take all practicable steps to prevent an action of his at work, namely felling a tree, from causing harm to Robert Epapara.

Mr Epapara, 23, was killed when he was struck on the head by the tree while working at Waione Forest, near Lake Rotoiti on March 26 last year.

Complete Logging Ltd, which employed Nelson and Mr Epapara, was earlier this month fined $60,000 and ordered to pay reparations of $75,000 for its health and safety failings that led to Mr Epapara's death.

Defence lawyer Greg Burt told the court Nelson denied the charge and elected to stand trial in front of a judge alone. He said three days would be required for the hearing.

Nelson was remanded on bail until March 5, at which time a hearing date will be set.

Yesterday it was announced there would be a forestry industry-led inquiry after 11 workers died on the job in the past 13 months.

Rotorua MP Todd McClay is calling for Rotorua's forestry sector to have their say in the major review.

"An industry-led inquiry into forestry safety is a positive step forward for the forestry sector. Forestry is a significant contributor to the local economy and therefore there's a lot of expertise here. I strongly encourage these local companies to put forward their ideas and contribute to this important inquiry," Mr McClay said.

"The Government has taken steps to improve safety standards in the sector however it is clear that a collaborative approach with industry is needed. It's important we work together to improve the safety of all workers in the sector. As the local MP I'll remain engaged with both the Minister of Labour, Simon Bridges, and Rotorua's forestry operators as this inquiry is carried out."

Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell has welcomed the announcement but is warning the government that as the regulator of workplace health and safety, it should not wash their hands of their responsibilities.

"The forestry sector has the highest number of workplace injury deaths in New Zealand, and that's unacceptable. The Maori Party have been raising the issue of safety of forestry workers for some time, and have been less than pleased with the responses received from Government to date, who have basically told us they're doing enough. They're not," said Mr Flavell.

"We are pleased that the industry has picked up this serious issue and will be leading an inquiry into forestry safety."

"It's important to get people on board who can get next to the workers and the people who can speak to the heart of the issues."

"The Maori Party does not want one more life lost working in the forestry industry. We see that as both an industry and a government responsibility. We look forward to the outcome of the inquiry, and will be watching very carefully to see how we can support and protect the wellbeing of our workers," said Mr Flavell.

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